In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb_9gm3ll8jmttmc3w4bmnmcurldl8

Guardians of the Galaxy

In many respects, “Guardians,” directed and co-written by indie wit James Gunn, and starring buffed-up former schlub Chris Pratt and Really Big Sci-Fi Blockbuster vet…

Thumb_myhhyqdnplpywpihk5btjuq2kxk

Finding Fela

Alex Gibney's "Finding Fela," about the legendary African pop star and political activist, feels like the rough draft of a very good movie.

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb_xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Thumb_jrluxpegcv11ostmz1fqha1bkxq

Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other Articles
Life Itself Archives
Other Articles
Blog Archives
Other Articles
Channel Archives

Reviews

Prospero's Books

Prospero's Books Movie Review
  |  

Peter Greenaway’s “Prospero’s Books” is not a movie in the sense that we usually employ the word. It’s an experiment in form and content. It is likely to bore most audiences, but will enchant others -- especially those able to free themselves from the notion that movies must tell stories. This film should be approached like a record album or an art book. Each “page” is there to be studied in its complexity and richness, while on the soundtrack we hear one of the great voices in theater history, John Gielgud’s.

Greenaway begins with a crucial piece of information from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, that final and most symmetrically perfect of the playwright’s works. Prospero, once duke of Milan, has been tossed by a storm onto a lost island, along with his daughter, Miranda, various crew members and such resident sprites and monsters as Ariel and Caliban. But he has managed to save his books from the tempest - books he prizes more than his dukedom - and Greenaway wonders about that water-soaked library. What books did he have, and how did he use them?

The books, their typography, calligraphy and illustrations, are photographed in voluptuous detail. As Gielgud takes center screen in a narrative adapted from Shakespeare, Greenaway overlays those basic images of Prospero with a series of transparencies. Pages of books appear over the central image or slide in from the sides, sometimes two or three deep, pausing for our consideration, and then vanishing to be replaced by still other images and words. The effect is something like those high school biology texts in which succeeding sheets of transparent plastic revealed the depths of the human body, one layer after another.

The human images in the film center around the idea of nudity. Here, as in such earlier films as “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover,” the form and fleshiness of the nude is Greenaway’s visual obsession. There are, at various times, dozens or even hundreds of unclothed bodies on the screen, seen by the director in terms of Renaissance painting, and by the philistines at the Motion Picture Association of America as, needless to say, cause for an R rating. Gielgud presides over all of these images -- printed and fleshy -- as a sorcerer who alone understands their master purpose.

This is not the film to see if you want to witness a performance of The Tempest. It is,however, a fascinating film if you are interested in the play, in Shakespeare or in the breathtaking era when manuscripts and the printed word began to pull Europe out of the Dark Ages and into what we congratulate ourselves is a more enlightened time. “Prospero’s Books” would be an ideal film to watch on laserdisc, where with a hand-held remote you could freeze any frame and study its subtleties. It is also a wonderful film to listen to; Gielgud does a great many of the speaking roles, and, at 86, seems in full and sonorous command of his vocal instrument.

“Prospero’s Books” really exists outside criticism. All I can do is describe it. Most of the reviews of this film have missed the point; this is not a narrative, it need not make sense, and it is not “too difficult” because it could not have been any less so. It is simply a work of original art, which Greenaway asks us to accept or reject on his own terms.

Popular Blog Posts

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

Comic-Con 2014: Star Trek Kickstarter Film "Prelude to Axanar"

A report from SDCC on the Kickstarter "Star Trek" film, "Prelude to Axanar."

Able-Bodied Actors and Disability Drag: Why Disabled Roles are Only for Disabled Performers

Scott Jordan Harris argues that disabled characters should not be played by able-bodied actors.

The greatest films of all time

I am faced once again with the task of voting in Sight & Sound magazi...

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus